December 9, 2021

The Winter Surge: Routine COVID-19 Testing Can Strengthen Your Company’s Resilience

By
Stephen Massey
Managing Director, Health Action Alliance

Employers should consider the full range of actions along with vaccination and boosters to mitigate the impact on your business.

The emergence of the Omicron variant is already generating swift responses:

  • Google and Uber announced that they will delay their planned January 10 return to the office for all employees indefinitely.
  • Ford will delay its hybrid return-to-work plan for its office workers until March.
  • And New York City announced a vaccine requirement for all private employers, effective December 27.  


As employers consider how to strengthen the safety of their workplaces to prepare for Omicron, testing—along with encouraging vaccination and boosters, requiring masks, and flexible return-to-work plans—is another important tool to monitor and limit the spread of the virus.


The CDC is encouraging people to self-test for COVID-19 before indoor gatherings this holiday season. Until medical experts know more about Omicron’s transmissibility even among vaccinated people, employers may want to formalize that protection by requiring weekly testing of all employees, regardless of vaccination status.


Health insurance plans will have to reimburse people for the cost of at-home tests beginning January 15, 2022, but employers should consider the equity impact on low-income workers of having to cover the up-front costs of testing. Free testing at pharmacies and health centers is widely available and also prevents employers from relying on the honor system of tests that are self-administered and self-certified. New polling of employers from Willis Towers Watson shows that a self-administered test observed on site is the procedure most preferred by employers.


We have prepared a new, customizable sample CEO email to help employers communicate the full range of steps they are taking to prepare for Omicron.


Sample Email to Employees About the Omicron Variant 



Dear Team,

As you have likely heard, a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, called Omicron, has emerged in many parts of the United States and has raised immediate concern among medical experts. While they study how easily Omicron spreads, whether it causes more serious illness than the Delta variant, and how well our existing vaccines will respond, I wanted to write to you to let you know what steps [Company name] will be taking now to protect your health and the health of our community.

Make no mistake: We are in a much better place than we were a year ago. We have a better understanding of how to protect ourselves. And we have free, safe and widely available vaccines that medical experts believe will prevent serious illness. The progress we have made will not be lost—especially not if we take steps to get vaccinated and to control the spread of the virus through regular testing and wearing masks.

Following the advice of public health experts, [Company name] will take the immediate following steps:

1. All workers will be offered paid time off for vaccination or to get a booster shot. 

This applies to appointments for yourself and anyone in your family whom you must accompany, such as your children or a parent that you take care of. As a reminder, booster shots are now recommended for all adults. Vaccination is recommended and available to all children ages 5 and up. 

You may be wondering why you should get a booster shot if medical experts don’t yet know how strongly existing vaccines will respond. It’s important to understand that vaccines are made with variants in mind. Booster shots of the vaccine increase the strength of our immune response, developing more antibodies and making it more likely that they will protect you against the new variant. Boosters restore the protection that fades over time after vaccination and keep our bodies on high alert against the virus.

I got vaccinated and received my booster as soon as I became eligible. Data from the tens of millions of Americans who’ve already received a booster showed them to be safe and effective. I encourage you to get boosted and to talk to your manager about taking time off to do so if you can’t get an appointment outside of work hours.

2. All employees and visitors must wear a mask in the workplace, regardless of vaccination status.

We know that masks help control the spread of airborne particles that contain the virus. Requiring all people in the workplace to wear masks—which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends in places where transmission of COVID-19 is substantial—will provide an extra layer of protection, which will be especially important until we know more about the Omicron variant.

3. Beginning [date], all workers must test weekly for COVID-19.

Frequent testing will help us prevent the virus from entering the workplace. We will provide free testing on-site. As has always been the case, anyone who tests positive will be sent home on sick leave. And if you feel ill for any reason, please do not come in to work. [If on-site testing is not possible, state whether you will require employees to get tested at public clinics or pharmacies, whether they can use an at-home test—and whether you will require the test to be observed by a telehealth proctor or whether you will accept self-certification, i.e. the honor system, and how they should submit their test results. Note that some states require employers to pay the costs of mandatory testing.]

4. We will continue to encourage remote work where it is possible.

We will not compromise the health of our team for any reason, including for any targets to return all staff to the workplace. Instead, our policies will evolve in line with the changing realities of the pandemic. Because social distancing is an effective measure against the spread of the virus, we will continue to allow and encourage remote work where it is possible and limit the number of people in the office.

Your manager will send more details about each of these steps, but I wanted you to hear from me about our commitment to a healthy workplace.

Throughout the pandemic, we have followed the advice of public health experts to stay ahead of the curve and keep our workplace as safe as possible, and I’ve been proud of your response at every phase. The Omicron variant calls on us to renew our commitment to a healthy workplace, and I’m confident we will meet this call together.

Thank you for always prioritizing the health and safety of yourselves and each other.

Yours sincerely,

NAME

President/CEO, Chief Medical Officer, or other trusted leader